La­bels look to an “off ” aes­thetic for in­spi­ra­tion

How the fash­ion in­dus­try is em­brac­ing re­versed beauty stan­dards

Red Magazine - - Editor's Note | Contents - WORDS BAMBINA OLIVARES WISE

There is a French term, jolielaide, which, when trans­lated, means “ugly-beau­ti­ful” and which, when ut­tered, is ac­tu­ally a com­pli­ment rather than an in­sult. Jolie-laide has been used to de­scribe an atyp­i­cal beauty, no­table for the asym­me­try of fea­tures, and there­fore strik­ing and un­for­get­table, as op­posed to the bland­ness of the merely pretty. As F. Scott Fitzger­ald once wrote, “Af­ter a cer­tain de­gree of pret­ti­ness, one pretty girl is as pretty as an­other.”

Such women have been cel­e­brated rather than shunned, mainly by those with Euro­pean sen­si­bil­i­ties, and even im­mor­tal­ized on film or on the cat­walk: Rossy de Palma, Char­lotte Gains­bourg, Sofia Cop­pola, Alek Wek, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Sarah Jes­sica Parker, and even Cher.

While such jar­ring fea­tures—a prom­i­nent hooked nose, a too-square chin, too widely-set eyes, a masculine jaw—may star­tle at first, one even­tu­ally gleans the beauty in­her­ent in the odd­ness. But can the same yard­stick be ap­plied to fash­ion?

There is a thread of ugly stitched into fash­ion of late, and ap­par­ently it’s cool. From Vete­ments, Ba­len­ci­aga, and Dries Van Noten, to Gucci, Gosha Rubchin­skiy, and Vir­gil Abloh’s Off-White, there’s an ag­gres­sive ug­li­ness to the fash­ions be­ing pur­veyed at the mo­ment. As a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Quartz pointed out, “Right now, ug­li­ness is hav­ing a mo­ment. The la­bels get­ting the most at­ten­tion make clothes that are of­ten de­lib­er­ately gawky and un­gainly, in a clamor of lurid or mis­matched col­ors that knock about glar­ingly in an out­fit.”

Beauty, in other words, has be­come so ba­sic and bor­ing and ba­nal that it of­fers noth­ing new or ex­cit­ing in terms of fash­ion. The point, it seems, is not to create some­thing beau­ti­ful or sub­lime that ticks all the boxes ac­cord­ing to the con­ven­tional norms of what is beau­ti­ful in fash­ion, but rather to chal­lenge, shock, and up­end those norms and force the eye to see dif­fer­ently.

Or so they say. They, in­clud­ing Dries Van Noten, who said in a 2012 in­ter­view at the Al­liance Française in New York, “I’m more in­spired by things which I don’t like ...noth­ing is so bor­ing as some­thing beau­ti­ful. I pre­fer ugly things, I pre­fer things which are sur­pris­ing... You force your­self to ask your­self ques­tions. Quite of­ten I make a col­lec­tion and I say, ‘Here’s a color I re­ally don’t like.’... My as­sis­tants will say ‘ Okay, you don’t like lilac,’ [that means] this sea­son will be lilac. It’s like you see a color, and you think, ‘ Why don’t I like this color?’ Maybe the com­po­si­tion is wrong, maybe the light­ing is wrong—it would be beau­ti­ful in silk, but not the syn­thetic fabric... That for me is the fun, to play with all the [fab­rics].”

There is in­deed a de­lib­er­ate­ness to the ad­di­tion of “off ” el­e­ments in cloth­ing to­day. Demna Gvasalia, who de­signs for both Ba­len­ci­aga and Vete­ments, throws in—not ca­su­ally, but with cal­cu­lated non­cha­lance— these el­e­ments: down­mar­ket fab­rics, awk­ward pro­por­tions, clash­ing prints. They do not bor­der sub­ver­sion but em­brace it.

At a price, of course, to the con­sumer. •

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